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Falling forwards, one step at a time


ITALY | Sunday, 11 May 2014 | Views [331]

Raindrops are splattering on the canvas rolled out on the street. Making the chalk pastels swirl in the droplets. Kaleidoscopic vortexes appearing all over the work-in-progress replica of ‘the school of Athens’ by Raphaelo. At this point the artist Bernt, snaps me out of my daydream and emplores me to help him roll it up before it gets ruined. Together we roll up the canvas with the efficiency of a military operation. Quickly masking taping it tight onto the guttering tube we use as the core, and leg it back to his van, his home, and my home for the previous week and next 3 to follow.

In the summer of 2008, I got the privilege of travelling with a family friend by the name of Bernard von Hesseburg around northern Italy. A german born Baron, whose family had sold their castle and who now lived as a Madonnari… a travelling artist. This man was ever present during my early childhood, he was my substitute father figure, my first idea of masculinity. He was a good choice, with facial features looking like Chuck Norris, a huge german sheppard called Gypsy, a ragged presentation of dark skin, rough worked hands, and a constant cigarette in his mouth that gave his voice the rasping quality of a 1950’s movie star.

His life is tough, a constant battle of wits to avoid the rain that can take him across continents. Each day I helped him carry his equipment (chalks, mats, bowls and canvases) from his van to the busiest tourist spots across northern Italy.  We’d roll out the canvas’s tape down the donation bowls and set up his tools of the trade. For as long as the sun was out he’d sit there and draw, answering questions, and passionately talking to the curious passers-by about his work. The sun reaching such heats as to make his pastels begin to melt, and forcing myself to the shade and the welcome coolness of italy’s famed gelateria’s, yet he would stay and draw, utterly devoted to his art.

In the evening he’d cook simple meals for us on his campervan stove. Lighting his first evening cigarette and sipping a beer , he counted his takings for the day. Deciding whether it was time to crank up the ACDC CD and move on to the next town. His campervan is homely, yet  an essence of what it means to be a traveller, with space only for the essentials and a few personal possessions (photo’s of him and his brothers and well thumbed books). We were not limited to the campervan meals, no trip to italy is complete without sampling as much local cuisine as possible, though local is possibly not the correct term anymore as it has been shipped to every reach of the globe. But authentic italian cuisine "like mama used to make it", is essential. The coastal seafood, pastas and the epitome of pizzas provide dishes to suit all palletes. If you dont return with a few extra holes on your belt, you havent realised the italian lifestyle. Do what you want, when you want, and be happy about it. The country overflows with happiness.

 Bernt has his regular towns he visits, and hence a group of friends in each. His naturally gregarious personality making it effortless. Each place he would visit he would be greeted like an explorer returning from a long adventure. Everyone rushing to see him to check how he’s been, his latest exploits and to persuade him to come have a beer with them that evening. That is how I felt aswell, an explorer. It was my first travel experience solo, it opened me up to the beauties of italy. A country shaped like a boot, that I fully intended to walk every inch of. Niaivety had gotten the best of me. The first time being fully immersed in another culture without the safety of parents to guide me. Aged 15 and thrown into the world. To me italy will always evoke that feeling of freedom. A fertile land where any experience may be had. whether diving into the streets of the sinking city of venice, falling in love with the setting of romeo and juliet (Verona),  or drinking in the beauty of a harvest one of the countrys many vineyards(I'll agree this metaphor thing is getting tenous). 

This trip and Bernt’s life is what has driven me since. The simplicity of choosing something you love and finding a way to live from it no matter what, appeals to me on so many levels. It is hopefully clear from this account that it isn’t easy to do so, and is not to be undertook lightly. But the rewards for daring to do so are huge. I hope you can bring yourself to do the same. I realise it is a risk, but when deciding what to do in these situations I always think of a phrase an old friend of mine uses. You can die from something dangerous, or be dead your whole life.  Seize the day and explore italy. Do what you want, when you want and be happy.

Tags: first time, roadtrip


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